Black Friday 2009

We weren’t planning on going shopping today, but we are visiting my parents (who graciously cashed in 120,000 miles for our tickets) for Thanksgiving, so there were some places that they wanted to go and we just tagged along. I had received an Impact Bonus Award at work this week, and that netted out at $200, so my husband and I each got our allotment (as noted in an earlier POST) of $30 to spend any way we wanted, so I was comforted to know that could at least purchase something small if we found a good deal.

But what happened instead is that my father decided that he would like to make it even more fun for us, so he gave us $200 cash each with the specific instructions that we were not to save it, but that we must spend it! What a great gift! So, my husband purchased two Wii games that we had wanted and talked about maybe getting in some after Christmas sales (we have decided that he and I would not purchase any gifts for each other before Christmas, but would instead take advantage of the sales that come up at the end of December/beginning of January). And I purchased a few kitchen items and I still have $160 to spend. I’m looking at some Le Creuset

Making friends with the slow-cooker

Last month, in an effort to combat our continual overspending on food, I was very proactive and developed a meal plan for the week. I’m used Google docs to share it with the hubby so we can both refer to it from our respective locations during the day.

This process worked great until I started back at school for the Fall term…now, we are a little more haphazard in our planning, but somehow, we’ve started to stumble upon some cooking methods that are helping us to stretch our dollars and eat healthier at the same time.

One of these things is the slow-cooker – it turns out that you can put lots of types of meats in there with various other items and – voila! – dinner (and lunch and more dinner). And, because it doesn’t require a bunch of time at the oven or stove, the husband has been very involved with the process of prep, for which I am very grateful with my 8am-10pm schedule on 3 days of the week.

This week, we tried the Pomegranate Pulled Pork recipe from Coconut & Lime.  The author, Rachel Rappaport, posts great original recipes on her blog, and we’ve tried quite a few. I haven’t purchased her new slow-cooker cookbook, but I may be adding it to my Christmas Wish list as I think that focusing on these menus that can be streeeeeeeeeeeetched out will help us in our quest to stay within (or even below) budget. And I think it is working – because we have only consumed 40% of our dining-out budget so far this month (and we’re 63% in) and we’re at 65% of our grocery budget, so we’re tracking right where we should be, a huge feat for us!

Are there any slow-cooker recipes you have used that are winners?

So…about the student loans

If you have ever looked at our updates of our debt reduction, no doubt you have noticed the asterisk that notes that “* doesn’t include school loans.” Perhaps you are wondering why we have not included these, as they are most definitely debt.

This is why we have decided not to include them – because we are still adding to the total. As I am still pursuing my grad school education, I have taken loans out to fund this part of my journey. It seemed to us as this would only be going up in the next few years (until we had our consumer debt paid off) we would wait to add it to our total for the time being.

But the reality is this — it is around $50,000 at the moment. Which is a little scary, but we are very grateful that the interest rate is low and that mine is in deferment as I am continuing my studies.

upromise3However, even while in deferment, I am trying to put little bits here and there toward my school debt, and one of the ways that I am doing that is through UPromise. This site is allowing me to earn pennies here and there to put toward my school loans. I earn them by registering for grocery coupons, using my debit card for certain restaurants and online shopping. Also, my mother has registered on the site, so when she uses her grocery cards or shops online, I get a percentage toward my debt reduction, too.

I debated about whether I should put this link on the site, but after talking to a few people, I was convinced that it would be okay to tell you that if you were interested, you, too could help add pennies to my debt reduction journey by signing up as a Guest Shopper. You will get access to thousands of coupons and deals, and I would get UPromise savings with every eligible purchase you make, helping us on our journey.   So, if you are interested, please feel free to click on this link:

http://www.upromise.com/guest/2286768763

***If you have your own student loans, or someone you are close to is trying to reduce them through this program, I encourage you to sign up to help them, or yourself instead of me. I’m not trying to take the opportunity from anyone; I’m just looking for ways to add to our debt reduction that are win-win situations.

The smell of baking bread…

One of my co-workers asked me if I would be interested in taking her bread machine. I think I responded with a resounding “Yes!” before she had even finished asking the question!

My family had a bread machine in the early 90’s and I had fond memories of our very large, noisy bread machine that made round, hard-to-make-sandwiches-with loaves. I loved the smell of the baking bread and I immediately thought about all of the things I could do with it (bread, rolls, pizza dough, etc.), so I was pretty excited.

Since then, I’ve made five (5) loaves (3 white bread, 1 French and 1 cinnamon raisin) – I’m not sure how much money we are saving on bread, but there is something very heart warming about being able to cut a slice of warm bread that you just baked. And I’ve been happy to take some to work and toast it for some of my friends for their morning coffee. 🙂

Does anyone out there have some great bread machine recipes that they would like to share?

Clipping the Coupons!

Last week I decided to see how much money I could save on coupons, so I went to a few websites that help thrifty shoppers to find coupons and tried to see what I could find.

I started with visiting the grocery store website – Now that the store down the street is a Ralphs, and the nearest Albertson’s was quite a bit further, we decided that our main store for now will be Ralphs, so we can save money on gas and time. Eventually, I’d like it so that we could start walking to and from the grocery store for our smaller trips, both for gas savings, as well as additional exercise. So to the Ralphs website I went and found that they have a pretty cool Flash website that let’s you thumb through their weekly ad and construct a shopping list for printing. Albertson’s has the same thing and we have used it for the last year, so I was glad to see it at the new store, also.

While I was on the Ralphs site, I also found that they had a link to P&G eSAVER, which is a site that links coupons to your shopper’s reward card, so you don’t have to clip. It’s a time saver and good for the environment, too.

Eventually, I ended up at Coupon Mom and found that there were quite a few ways to print and clip coupons from this site. It is a bit overwhelming for me as I really on have about a lunch hour to complete the shopping list and coupon selection for the week, so I’m going to need some way to streamline and organize.

So after all of the research, clipping and shopping list construction, we headed to the store for an hour of exploring our new grocery store and prepping food for the week. Between my coupons, the sales and some Ralphs Rewards certificates, we purchased $242 worth of groceries and household products for $114, which felt like a real win!

But I still need some help, because I think we could do this even better – so, my dear readers…

What are your hints and tips for streamlining this process? How do you organize your coupons? What is the best physical coupon organizer?

What are the real costs of a move?

Having finally (on Tuesday) moved the last item from our old apartment to our new apartment, I started a mental tally of some of the costs that we incurred with our move.

This includes:

  • New non-slip bath mat ($19.99)
  • Sink/dish protectors ($19.97 for 3) – since we no longer have a dishwasher
  • Dish drainer ($5.99)
  • Floor cleaning/care products ($15.00) for our new laminate floors
  • Deep carpet cleaning ($190) – we had to have the bedrooms cleaned as I am allergic to dog and guess who had violated their lease before us…
  • Food for our volunteers ($35)
  • Safety locks for the sliding glass doors ($25)
  • more that I can’t think of at the moment.

So just that comes to $310.95. Yikes

And it doesn’t include the additional food costs (from not having a working kitchen for a week) or the three pro-rated days that we were charged extra as we couldn’t get all of our belongs out of our old apartment.

I think we learned some lessons, and my husband’s take away from all of this is the following declarative statement that he made last week:

“We are not moving again until we can afford to hire movers.”

Duly noted.

October 2009 :: Report

Debt Reduction

Our goals for October were:

Credit Card Debt  ::  $ 39,540.40
Taxes Owed         ::  $    3,259.86
Personal Loans    ::   $           0.00

Total Debt*           ::  $ 42,800.08

And here is where we were after 10.31.09:

Credit Card Debt  ::  $39,595.55
Taxes Owed          ::   $   3,130.23
Personal Loans    ::   $       00.00

Total Debt*            :: $42,725.78

*does not include school loans

Good month in the debt reduction department!!! Our goal was that we would pay $1,260 toward debt, with a net reduction of $833. Our total reduction for the month was $802. This was a little lower because of an annual fee, but it felt like we were getting on track, which is good. One of the reasons that we have better numbers than we thought is that there was an adjustment to our tax liability (in our favor), but it all counts to less debt, so we feel great about it!

Budget

With the move this month, our budget imploded a little bit (okay, it was a lot, not a little). I have been very frustrated by that and I’m hopeful that once we get the last things moved that we can really get things in line. Without having our kitchen set up for two weeks, our dining-out category was way out of control, and I was pretty disgusted with it all.

Savings

Savings Goals for October:

Regular Savings  :: $    350
Family Leave       :: $ 1,150
Emergency           :: $    535

Total Savings       :: $ 2,035

Where we landed at the end of October:

Regular Savings  :: $  383
Family Leave       :: $  813
Emergency           :: $  516

Total Savings      :: $ 1,712

We’ve got $1,712 in savings this month, up $177 from last month. We canceled some of our savings in order to fund parts of our move, which makes sense since it was a family emergency. We will probably take some of our regular savings to cover the remaining expenses. I would have loved to use that money for Christmas, but I think I have come up with a plan for making a little extra for Christmas (I’ll share later).